Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Absurd Person Singular
The most recent British contribution is Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular, playing at The Vortex Theatre under the direction of Marty Epstein. This romping 1972 three-act comedy follows the fortunes of three couples over three successive Christmas Eves. They all get together each year, and each get-together is at a different couple's home. In each scene, the action takes place in the kitchen.
We start out in the kitchen of Sidney and Jane Hopcroft. They're a cheerful couple who are striving to improve Sidney's contracting business. This Christmas Eve, they have invited Ronald, a banker, and his wife Marion. They have also invited Geoffrey, an architect, and his wife Eva. Sidney is hoping to curry favor with Ronald and Geoffrey who are many steps ahead of him on the success ladder. Both Ronald and Geoffrey look down on Sidney with disdain.
That's the set up. In act two, the three couples meet in Geoffrey and Eva's kitchen, and in the last act, they're all together in Ronald and Marion's kitchen. What we get over the three acts is topsy turvy fortunes, as Sidney rises in affluence while Geoffrey and Roland suffer financial calamity.
The story is a bit of a play on English manners and illusions. Sidney and Jane are innocent and eager, quite a contrast to their sophisticated and worldly guests. Yet those guests are riddled with flaws. Christmas Eve with Geoffrey and Eva is a disaster as Eva confronts Geoffrey about his philandering. He shrugs it off, and she goes suicidal. At Roland and Marion's home the next year, Roland's depressed about his dwindling fortunes, and Marion is drinking heavily.
So how do you get a comedy out of this gloomy rumination of class struggles? With pratfalls, mistaken identities, numerous failed suicide attemptsevery rabbit Ayckbourn can pull out of his theatrical hat. Ayckbourn is a fabulously successful British playwright, often referred to as England's Neil Simon. In Absurd Person Singular, he's quite a bit darker than Simon, and a bit more belly-laughable.
The Vortex production has plenty going for it. Solid direction by the consistently excellent Marty Epstein, and a mighty cast of terrific actors who are mostly British. The first play Epstein directed was Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind at The Vortex in 1992. He went on to meet Ayckbourn on a European trip. Epstein's affection of Ayckbourn's work shows through in this production.
Plus, the acting is fabulous throughout. Standouts include Jessica Osbourne, who is always surprisingly vivid on stage. She finds quirks and peculiarities in Jane that just jump alive. Her short off-hand Scottish dance is pure dazzle. Tim Crofton's cloying Sidney is another gem. Crofton keep a twinkle in Sidney's eye that absolutely pins down the character's optimistic glow. And the sweetness Osbourne and Crofton bring to the marriage of Sidney and Jane is delicious.
Another standout is Emily Carvey as Eva. She absolutely carries the second act with a series of drunken, despairing suicide attempts that she botches while the other characters in the kitchen are oblivious. Distracted by their own dramas, they completely misinterpret Eva's behavior. The whole scene is a brilliant dance. Carvey is oddly convincing and wildly funny in her inept attempts on her own life.
As a holiday production, it's wonderfully dark, and full of belly laughs. I found myself laughing harder than most people in the audience. Not sure why, but I found it a tightly delivered hilarity. The supporting production team has done everything right, though I would suggest a less obvious wig for Crofton. Or perhaps no wig at all.
Absurd Person Singular, through through December 23, 2017, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, Albuquerque NM. The show starts at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:00 pm on Sundays. General admission tickets are $22, $19 for ATG members, and $15 for students and those in an entertainment union. You can buy tickets online at vortexabq.org or by phone at 505-247-8600.